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After Months on the Run, Mom’s Boyfriend Arrested in Murder of 8-Year-Old Girl Who Was Forced to Live in Shed: Authorities

Dhante Jackson, and Sophia Mason.

Dhante Jackson, and Sophia Mason.

Authorities in California say that they have caught a fugitive who murdered his girlfriend’s daughter.

Dhante Jackson, 34, is locked up at the Merced County Jail on charges of murder in the first degree and willful harm or injury to a child. As previously reported, law enforcement said he subjected young Sophia Mason, 8, to physical and sexual abuse.

The child was forced to live in a shed and closet at the home, law enforcement said in a press conference Sunday. She had been dead at Jackson’s Merced home for a month and experienced malnourishment during her life, officials said.

Mason’s mother Samantha Johnson, 30, was previously implicated. She remains at the jail on charges of murder in the first degree and willful harm or injury to a child.

“In my 20 years of law enforcement, this case is the most disturbing and horrific I’ve seen,” Merced Police Lt. Joe Perez said. “To know what that poor little angel went through by the hands of pure evil breaks my heart.”

The Merced and Hayward police departments announced in March that Jackson was on the run. Officers said a family member reported Mason missing. Cops initially could not find Johnson or the child, but they eventually arrested her in Newark, California, north of San Jose. They said they found Mason died at Dhante Jackson’s home in the city of Merced, which is a two-hour drive east of San Jose.

But there was no sign of Jackson’s whereabouts.

“Soon after news spread about Jackson’s home being searched, he went on the run,” Merced officers previously wrote. “A warrant has been issued for Jackson’s arrest for the charge of murder. He is known to frequent the Bay Area of California.”

That’s where they said they found him on Saturday — in the city of Newark. He was living with local woman Mayra Gonzalez, 33, authorities said. She has been charged as an accessory to murder after the fact. So has Merced woman Laronna Larkins, 42, and San Jose resident Daberka Thompson, 40. Authorities said several women helped Jackson flee, and they gave him money, shelter, and transportation. Officers did not delineate how the three co-defendants specifically provided aid, except to say Gonzalez and Jackson lived together.

“The pain of losing a child is unimaginable — especially when that child was a victim of abuse,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “We grieve with Sophia’s family and loved ones, and acknowledge that she should be here with us now — playing, learning, and growing up. Our children should be protected from violence and we must do everything we can to safeguard them. I want to thank the members of my team and our law enforcement partners in Merced for their work on this very difficult case, and hope it brings some measure of comfort to those who loved this young girl to know that those accused of her murder will now have to face these allegations.”

The investigation is ongoing. Cops ask that anyone with information step forward.

From officers:

Merced Police are asking anyone with any information regarding this crime to contact Detective John Pinnegar at 209-38-7712 or by email at [email protected].

For reference, the Merced Police Department case number is 2022-14506.

[Booking photo of Dhante Jackson via Merced County Jail; image of Sophia Mason via Hayward Police Department]

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